|TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen from the 821st Contingency Response Group here participated in Exercise Northern Strike Aug. 7-20, 2016, at Grayling Army Airfield and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan.
Exercise Northern Strike is a large-scale exercise coordinated by the Michigan Army National Guard and features Army, Marines and Air Force working together for total force integration.
"A few years ago, the Michigan National Guard decided to build an exercise to train its folks in order to prepare for an upcoming deployment," said Master Sgt. Jeffery Hollaway, 821st CRG current operations superintendent. "With all of the the different services kicking in, the exercise grew. Before long, it became a large-scale exercise with units active, guard and reserve participating."
With more than 5,000 participants from Michigan, Illinois, Latvia, Canada and Poland, among others, Exercise Northern Strike combined air and ground capabilities into a single exercise. The size and quality of the training area allowed for the large-scale exercise to take place.
"I feel we have the best training area east of the Mississippi," said Michigan Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Spagnuolo, Grayling Army Airfield noncommissioned officer in charge. "It's 148,000 acres of land and we can do a lot of training. That's why we want more states and countries to come here."
The exercise included aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules, A-10 Thunderbolt II, CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk. Northern Strike gave Airmen a chance to work with rotary wing, turboprop aircraft and practice being outside of their comfort zones.
"When you are responsible for physically moving people and equipment from place to place, one missed planning detail or failure to understand a process has a ripple effect that can be hard to recover from or at least more work for your team," said Senior Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, 921st Contingency Response Squadron superintendent and contingency response team chief. "This (training) allows for our Airmen to get outside of their normal functional area to learn and appreciate what their fellow teammates bring to the fight."
Northern Strike also provided the opportunity for 821st CRG Airmen to rehearse potential real-world situations by training with Army counterparts in cargo uploading and downloading on aircraft, aircraft engine running off-loads, communications, aerial port procedures and air traffic control.
With one team at Grayling AAF and one at Alpena CRTC, the 821st CRG exhibited their capabilities by honing their skills as CR Airmen to provide communication, logistical and maintenance support, as well as airfield management.
"Operating in two locations at once is challenging but it also provides more opportunities for officers and enlisted to lead people on the road," said Smith. "It also is very realistic for real-world missions where we could be operating at a main base and a forward operating base."
Falling under the 621st Contingency Response Wing, the 821st CRG is responsible for training and rapidly deploying personnel to quickly and efficiently open airfields in remote locations and extend Air Mobility Command's ability to deploy Airmen and equipment around the globe.
"Each CRG Airman is trained to be a jack of all trades," said Smith. "For example, Master Sgt. Joseph Jeffers is a command post Airman by trade, but out here he is learning ramp coordinator procedures."
Typically traveling in small teams, CRG Airmen have to be prepared for anything.
"The CRG is unique because we take mobility Airmen from almost all of the Air Force Specialty Codes an AMC base would have to support mobility aircraft and deploy them anywhere in less than 12 hours," said Smith. "Operators and support personnel alike deploy together as one team to accomplish the mission. When you are a small team you have to be able to rely on each other to get the job done ... we may need a communications troop to drive a forklift or an aircraft maintainer to program radios. It is an essential component to being a CR Airman."
All of the CRG's goal were met during the exercise, said Smith. The goals included providing a realistic venue for duty position qualification and upgrade training, a safe learning environment for our newest members to be introduced to CRG's processes and procedures and to practice integrating joint and total force operations while showcasing the CRG's capabilities.
"Fifty-six people from all three of our squadrons were provided an opportunity to work alongside each other and their sister services to accomplish the mission," said Smith. "Furthermore, we were able to conduct numerous hours of cross utilization training for our folks."
The 821st CRG are trained professionals who regularly participate in exercises such as Northern Strike, which enables them to handle a variety of missions with ease.
"I am most proud when the mission stresses our capabilities and I am able to look out on the flightline and observe our CR Airmen working together to safely and efficiently accomplish the mission," said Smith. "At times they make the complexity that is rapid global mobility so effortless that it is easy for their skills, knowledge and dedication to be taken for granted. It truly is an amazing process to witness."